Heidi and her Sealine C330 head off on a trip through the French canals, but first they must cross the Channel
Over the winter we looked into taking Chilaxin through the French waterways to the Mediterranean. She is the maximum size to get through the bridges on some of the canals. The air draught on the Sealine C330 is 11ft 4in (3.47m). The maximum bridge height on the route we are taking is 11ft 5in (3.5m), so I get the feeling we are going to have plenty of moments holding our breath!
Before we even get to that point, we have to work out the route, the number of miles, locks, what to take and, vitally, how to get fuel!
Starting from Brixham MDL Marina (our home port), we will head to Guernsey and on to France – Saint-vaast-la-hougue, then Le Havre, continuing up the Seine to Paris, and onwards until we reach Canal du Loing, Canal de Braire, Canal Lateral, Canal du Centre, followed by the river Saône to Lyon and then, finally, the Rhône to Montpellier. After that, if time and funds allow, we will head to Barcelona and onto the Balearics before heading home.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
Our cruise starts with a long weekend spent with the Brixham Bay Hoppers (an annual event) that involves 13 boats, including five powerboats, heading across to Guernsey.
Everyone has a great time exploring and having long chats over delicious meals – China Red on the seafront is one of our favourites. La Perla restaurant is a must – they cope very well with 36 noisy sailors! You have to choose your menu first but it’s always excellent food and a fabulous price.
We pre-booked our berths at Victoria Marina, who are always extremely helpful. If you want to be moored in the inner harbour, you will have to plan your journey to make sure you are able to get over the sill (their website gives you tide times and access details for the inner harbour). This provides you with much more shelter plus electricity and water.
If you are not in need of these services, the outer harbour is fine (we have been to both). You are rafted on pontoons and it’s possible to get water across to your boat if you are close enough. The marina’s shower blocks accommodate both areas and are always clean with plenty of hot running water.
Something I really like about the port authorities in Guernsey is that they come out to greet you in a little RIB and show you to your berth, which saves much of the guess work and confusion.
It's definitely a good idea to fill up with fuel in Guernsey – it is far cheaper here than on the mainland. There are three pumps, meaning there is very rarely a queue.
After two nights we decide to leave a day early and break up our journey to Le Havre. We find the port of Saint-vaast, around the headland from Alderney on the French coast, and almost halfway to Le Havre.
We were a little beaten up on the crossing to Guernsey and hope this one will be better, but we are wrong! We leave Guernsey shrouded in fog and head into rough seas between Alderney and France. Thankfully we are ready for them and take them in our stride.
Saint-vaast is a nice port, tucked away and
It’ s a good idea to fill up with fuel in Guernsey–it’ s far cheaper than the mainland
well protected. There is a lock to the entrance but their website gives all the tide and gate openings. No English is spoken but if you email for a booking (Google Translate is my new best friend) you will have no problems.
It is also a very pretty town with lots of restaurants, bars and shops including two butchers, a bakers and a tiny grocer. Something we noticed this year is how expensive food has become. It was also a shock when we filled the boat up with Gasoil – €1.60 per litre!
Now we are in French waters, our courtesy flag is flying. We also have our VNF péage plaisance to allow us to travel the coast and inland waterways. Visit the VNF website for details of all the prices (www.vnf.fr).
The final leg across the bay is past Caen and Cherbourg, which is pretty much a straight line, although it still takes us around three hours to complete and reach Le Havre.
We head out of Saint-vaast as soon as the lock opens at midday. We are expecting the sea to be busy with pleasure boats, ferries and container ships, however we only see two container ships and a couple of yachts just as we get to Le Havre.
The trip across is very easy despite being bumpy in places, taking me off my feet at one point. We enter Le Havre and head to the visitors’ moorings. The wind has picked up and making mooring quite awkward. Some French guys try to help but one pulls the bow line too tight and Chilaxin swings round and hits the pontoon. We aren’t happy as it has added more damage to a patch that was bumped during the winter storms, but we realise that she’s only going to get more knocks and bruises over the coming miles, and decide to settle in for the night.
With MDL Marinas being part of the Freedom Pass and Passeport Escale group, we get to enjoy a free night – perfect! The shower block and facilities are a bit of a trek from our mooring so we decide to use the boat for the night. Once we (and the boat) are clean and tidy, we head into town for dinner.
Many of the restaurants and bars appear to be closed. We realise we have arrived on a Monday and many places, as they are open all weekend, close on this day. Eventually we stumble across a small Indian restaurant – the Taj Mahal. It’s nearly 8.30pm so we decide to sit and enjoy the excellent service, lovely food and a pint or two of well-needed beer before heading back to the boat for an early night as we have a big day ahead in store.
Tomorrow we start our journey to Paris, along the Seine – Chilaxin’s first time on a river and the beginning of a journey that is sure to bring adventure and challenges. Heidi Hasler
alongside in St Peter Port, Guernsey Chilaxin Heidi’s charming home port of MDL Brixham
The imposing architecture of Le Havre Kev takes the wheel as they pass Cherbourg The tranquil marina basin at Saint-vaast